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The Easiest and Most Effective Three-Step Story Marketing Strategy Ever

In 2008, Clinica Adelante, a 33-year-old community health center in Phoenix, Arizona, nearly died.

It’s bankruptcy would have stranded thousands of low-income patients without proper healthcare.

Avein Saaty Tafoya became its new CEO and she knew that they needed to refine their brand story if they were going to survive.

Using our Story Cycle System, we crafted a new brand narrative, renamed Clinica Adelante to Adelante Healthcare and they became known as the only system providing sustainable healthcare for all.

Adelante’s three story pillars

  1. Sustaining services for all Arizonans regardless of their ability to pay
  2. Sustaining their business model by greening their operations and attracting only healthcare providers who cared about serving the less served.
  3. Sustaining the health of the communities they serve.

Adelante Healthcare opened beautiful new LEED-certified clinics and shared their brand narrative of sustainable healthcare for all, which made them immensely likable.

They became the trusted provider and one of the fastest-growing community health centers in the country.

In fact, Adelante Healthcare grew by more than 600% over eight years with a tiny budget for advertising, marketing and public relations, which made them even better known, liked and trusted.

How were they so successful? Because they used a concept called the “Know, Like & Trust Storytelling Flywheel strategy to build momentum for their growth.

We didn’t call it a flywheel back then. It just kind of happened. Naturally.

In hindsight, that was an intuitive flywheel on which we helped Avein and her team build their communications strategy.

So now I want to make the Business of Story “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling Flywheel intentional so you can use it to easily focus your storytelling strategy and quickly ignite your growth.

What is the Business of Story “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling Flywheel?

To be clear, the concept of the “Flywheel Effect” was first developed by business consulting icon, Jim Collins, in his 2001 seminal book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.

By definition, a flywheel is a heavy revolving wheel that is used in a machine to increase momentum and therefore provide greater stability to the machine. Given its weight, the flywheel is difficult to push from a standstill, but once it starts moving it gradually builds momentum, eventually enabling the wheel to turn by itself and create even more momentum through a self-reinforcing loop.

Collins shared this story in his Flywheel monograph:

In the autumn of 2001, just as Good to Great first hit the market, invited Jim to engage in a spirited dialogue with founder Jeff Bezos and a few members of his executive team. This was right in the middle of the dot-com bust when some wondered how (or if) Amazon could recover and prevail as a great company. Jim taught them about “the flywheel effect” that he’d uncovered in his research.

“In creating a good-to-great transformation, there’s no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, it feels like turning a giant, heavy flywheel. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don’t stop. You keep pushing. The flywheel moves a bit faster. Two turns . . . then four . . . then eight . . . the flywheel builds momentum . . . sixteen . . . thirty-two . . . moving faster . . . a thousand . . . ten thousand . . . a hundred thousand. Then at some point—breakthrough! The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.”

Bezos took the flywheel effect to heart and created one that has enabled Amazon to become an iconic global brand.

Here is Bezo’s original flywheel which has been spinning for over two decades.

Think of the low prices as what initially gets the wheel turning.

Once these low prices attract more consumers and propel more third-party sellers to join the marketplace, there are more stakeholders and Amazon can steadily increase the difference in market share between themselves and other online marketplace competitors.

In his book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, journalist Brad Stone explains that the “flywheel effect” in the company’s early stages worked like this:

“Lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.”

This demonstrates the chief characteristic of the Flywheel Effect which is the momentum that occurs when small wins accumulate over time, creating continued growth and improvement.

Inspired by its proven performance, I created the Business of Story “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling flywheel effect but have changed the word “effect” to “impact”, because that is what we’re all after with our stories.

The storytelling flywheel IMPACT happens when small branding, advertising, marketing and sales wins for your business – through the stories you tell – build on each other and eventually gain so much momentum that growth almost seems to happen by itself.

Think of it like a top.

A top doesn’t work unless you spin it. The faster you spin it the more stable it becomes and the longer it dances for you.

Once its momentum starts to slow it does what? It wobbles.

And if it loses all of its momentum, it falls over and lays there, kind of like a death spiral. Heaven for bid that happens to your brand.

In his excellent article called, 10 Lessons on Using the Flywheel Effect to Grow Your Business, Cameron Deatsch, Chief Revenue Officer for Atlassian, an AI service provider, said:

“Put simply, the central idea is that your customers are your best salespeople. If you make them happy, they’ll tell their friends. And if you make your product easy to learn about and purchase, those friends will buy it. Then your new happy customers will tell their friends, and so on.”

He mentioned that the Flywheel effect is a virtuous cycle that has three major components: Attract, Engage and Delight.

  1. Attract – Draw prospective customers to you with helpful content that is easy to discover. SEO, social media, targeted advertising, and live/virtual events all have a role to play here. Focus on earning their attention rather than forcing yourself into their line of sight.
  2. Engage – Now that you’ve made a good impression, make it easy for prospects to learn about your product on their own terms in and their own time, and ultimately buy it. Nurture campaigns, free trials, and a self-serve purchase flow are your best friends in this phase.
  3. Delight – Design your product to be as easy to get started with as possible. Offer documentation and knowledge bases that help customers get more value out of what you’re offering. Solicit customer feedback and act on it. Your goal here is to turn users into fans, who will recommend your product to their peers, friends, and even to perfect strangers through online reviews and social media.

“Notice how many times I used the word ‘easy’ there,” Deatsch continues. “Reducing friction is key to growing your business with the flywheel model. Flywheels (and I’m talking physical flywheels here – the kind used in motors or rowing machines) are incredibly efficient at storing and releasing energy. The faster a flywheel spins, the more energy it stores. And you make it spin faster by removing friction and applying force.”

Storytelling Flywheel Impact

Now that you know about the flywheel effect, and how Bezos has relied on it ever since Colins taught it to the folks at Amazon, there is another brand sentiment from Jeff Bezos that plays into the Business of Story flywheel impact. He said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

I have updated his quote to say, “Your brand is the stories people tell about you when you’re not in the room.”

In addition to Collins and Bezos, let’s bring in a third person to this storytelling flywheel conversation who inspired our storytelling version.

Legendary sales coach Bob Burg coined the phrase,

“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to, people they know, like and trust.”

Just like “attract, engage and delight” are the primary spokes of the Collins’ Flywheel Effect, “know, like and trust” are the spokes to the Business of Story Flywheel to create the greatest impact.

Why? Because to get your storytelling flywheel initially turning, you must be known as the category leader in your market.

What is it that you do differently and more distinctively than your competition? If you don’t stand for something then you won’t stand out in our crowded, noisy world.

If your customers don’t know what you stand for, then you won’t stand out to them in the highly competitive arena we all compete in.

If your colleagues don’t know what you stand for, then it becomes difficult to attract and retain top talent.

If the communities you serve don’t know what you stand for, then you won’t generate the goodwill you seek in the social circles you swirl in.

Since people do business with and refer business to people they know, like, and trust, then ask yourself what are you known for, and do your ideal customers know you for that purpose?

Once you attract your ideal customer being known for what you do, then you begin building momentum through the stories you tell about the outcomes you make happen for your customers.

These anecdotes help you become more likable because people can relate to you.

Your stories are clear and compelling, not boring. I mean when was the last time you were bored into buying anything?

So instead of boring product pitches, services selling, exhaustive laundry lists of features and functions, blah, blah, blah, you are igniting the limbic buying brain through the stories you share about the people you help.

This makes you vastly more likable.

Especially in the Business-to-Business world. Most B2B communicators fall into the Boring-to-Bored category because they yak about products instead of solution selling with storytelling.

Now you’re really getting your Business of Story “Know, Like and Trust’ Storytelling Flywheel moving by becoming immediately known for what you stand for that makes you stand out among your competition.

Remember Avein? Adelante Healthcare became known as the leader in providing sustainable healthcare for all.

Once known for something unique and needed, your likability grows with the anecdotal stories you tell. These stories connect deeply with your prime prospects because they can see themselves in them.

These prospects make better buyers who lead to converted customers to accelerate your revenue growth.

As I mentioned, the third spoke of your storytelling flywheel is “Trust.” All things being equal, people do business with and refer business to people they know, like and TRUST

It’s a compounding effect.

So how do you build remarkable trust in you, your brand and your offering?

First, by delivering on the promises you make in the stories that amplify your likability through credibility.

You simply deliver exceptional customer service to fortify your customers’ trust.

And, like all great stories, you help your story scale by encouraging your customers to share their experience with their world. That way you grow with the most effective form of advertising there is: FREE word-of-mouth marketing.

Again, let’s bring up Avein. Adelante Healthcare grew by over 600% with essentially FREE word-of-mouth marketing because of their “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling Flywheel.

See how your storytelling flywheel gains momentum?

Even if you haven’t created an operations-driven flywheel for your business per Collins’ approach, and you should, you can activate your Business of Story flywheel immediately.

By the way, if you want a quick overview and short guide on how to take advantage of the flywheel effect to grow your business, I highly recommend reading Jim Collins’ short book called Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.

He shares many examples of successful flywheels created for the aforementioned Amazon, plus brands that include Vanguard, Intel, Nike, The Cleveland Clinic, Ware Elementary School in Kansas and the Ojai Music Festival proving that the flywheel effect can work for any and every endeavor where making a real impact is the measure of success.

But regardless, you can get your Business of Story flywheel spinning right now by answering this one question:

What are you known for that makes you the most timely, relevant and urgent offering for your customers? 

For me, I’m known as the World’s Most Industrious Storyteller who helps leaders of purpose-driven brands and their people excel through the stories they tell.

Now I didn’t give myself that moniker, my clients did.

Because I have helped some of them like Adelante Healthcare grow by as much as 600 percent. Or when we increased engagement for client LinkedIn campaigns by 400%. Or when we increased donations by over 300% for Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona.

What are you known for?

Amazon is known as the world’s greatest marketplace.

Airbnb is known for making you feel like you Belong Anywhere.

Harmon Corgi’s, a nationally recognized Corgi/dog owner matchmaker in Perryton, Texas, is known as “Your Corgi Companion” when selecting your, well, Corgi Companion.

International sales consultant, Alice Heiman, is known as the sales advisor for CEOs.

Global marketer Daniel Nestle uses his podcast, The Daniel Nestle Show, to be known as the guy who helps you widen your swim lane as an expert to deepen your impact.

StoryPrompt is known as the SaaS platform that gives people more face time without the live calls.

I use StoryPrompt to capture my client stories to demonstrate their trust in our Business of Story training and share those stories to accelerate our “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling Flywheel.

So, how do you build your Business of Story flywheel? You use the three story frameworks we teach starting with the ABT (And, But, Therefore) agile narrative framework to clarify your brand story.

Let me give you an example that features Andre Martin-Hobbs, the founder of Pret Auto Partez, a Quebec, Canada, used car dealership for customers with poor credit.

No, Andre and his dealership team are not sharks praying on financially strapped buyers.

Instead, he designed Pret Auto Partez, which means “Ready, Car, Go” in English, to help his fellow Canadians repair their credit through the purchase of and prompt payments on a car.

After refining his brand story in 2017 using our Story Cycle System™, Andre is now known as the #1 place in Canada to repair your credit. His unique value proposition: Pret Auto Partez: Your Vehicle to Financial Freedom,

Visit his website and you will see their likability factor is through the roof as they encourage their colleagues to share their individual stories about how they’re helping their customers find the right car that fits their budget, and how they provide ongoing financial coaching to ensure their customers are making their timely payments that repair their credit.

Plus, you’ll see loads of happy customer testimonials on their site that show how much they like the financial guidance and service they get from Pret Auto Partez.

Andre told me that one lady traveled eight hours by bus to buy a car and start repairing her credit with his team. Now that’s trust, and a helluva story to share.

Speaking of trust, Pret Auto Partez has received over 800 5-star reviews on Birdeye, a reputation management and reporting website.

Andre and his story marketing team, of course, share those reviews to amplify their trust and become better known as Your vehicle for your financial freedom, leading to being even more likable as they help thousands of Canadians repair their credit, and grow their trust factor with every success story… and their Business of Story flywheel gains momentum.

It all started with the ABT that captured the Pret Auto Partez story.

You want the convenience of owning a car and you wish for the freedom it provides. But you’re stuck without your own transportation because you have bad credit. Therefore, you can now own a car to begin repairing your financial standing with Pret Auto Partez, your vehicle to financial freedom.

Andre is building his entire empire on this one short but powerful ABT statement that clearly and compelling focuses his brand story – what they’re known for – that puts into motion his Business of Story flywheel.

So, what’s the ROI created by this storytelling flywheel impact? Andre has become the largest and fastest-growing auto dealership in Quebec and is now licensing his business model throughout North America.

Talking about a virtuous cycle.

In another example, I mentioned Harman Corgis for being known as Your Corgi Companion to help you find the perfect Corgi Companion.

I worked with Leslie Harman to craft their ABT to get her Business of Story Flywheel turning. Here it is:

You are eager to expand your wonderful family with a cuddly Corgi pup, and if you find the right pooch with the proper temperament, then you’ll be blessed with a life-long companion.

But you’re suspect of dog peddlers because you or someone you know has been burned by unscrupulous breeders or sketchy backyard puppy mills.

Therefore, Imagine welcoming into your home a healthy Pembroke Welsh Corgi with the right energy level and temperament matched perfectly to you and your family by Harman Corgis. From prepping you and your home to puppy school to health and nutrition to becoming part of our active Corgi community of owners, Harman Corgis has been providing ideal companions to thousands of families since 1995.

Their ABT is a bit longer than Andre’s, but that’s okay because all you want to do is get your focused brand story down so that people know what you stand for.

Leslie had already built a community of Corgi owners and regularly solicited and shared their stories. So she had a flywheel in place and now she can be intentional on how to get it spinning faster to become even better known, liked and trusted as the provider of your ideal Corgi Companion.

Airbnb’s Storytelling Flywheel

Let’s take one last example, this time with a mega brand like Airbnb. What are they known for? Their central brand narrative is built on one idea: Belong Anywhere.

It is inspirational and aspirational because it speaks powerfully to three primary market segments: customers, hosts and colleagues. If you’re like Airbnb and you have more than one core audience, then I’d encourage you to write an ABT for each audience placing them at the center of your story. And then find the connecting narrative thread that binds them all together. For instance, their customer ABT might be:

There are people who want to explore interesting places around the world AND wish to feel less like tourists and more like locals.

BUT typical tourism houses you in large hotels, promotes crowded tours and separates you from the indigenous experiences you seek.

THEREFORE, Airbnb accommodates explorers with authentic residences where you feel like you belong anywhere.

Then they show what it means to Belong Anywhere with Airbnb through the stories they share to become more likable and trusted.

For instance, have you seen their Wall and Chain micro-documentary?

They shared the inspiration for the story you are about to hear on their YouTube channel.

Airbnb’s YouTube description says, “In May 2012, an Airbnb guest, Cathrine, told us a powerful story of a trip she took to Berlin with her father, Jörg, who was a Berlin Wall guard at the height of the Cold War. She wanted to show him the vibrant city Berlin had become, but it was the man they met at their Airbnb apartment that changed everything for Jörg.”

Here you go…

This story is a great example for how to use the five primal elements of a short story for big impact, which is essentially an expanded ABT.

I first learned about this simple story structure from my friends Shawn Callahan and Mark Shenk of Antidote, a leadership storytelling consultancy in Melbourne, Australia.

Mark has an amazing book called Putting Stories to Work: Mastering Business Storytelling.  I highly recommend it becoming an invaluable part of your storytelling library. You can hear my conversation with Shawn way back on episode #41: Your Limitless Storytelling Potential.

I believe the five primal elements are the easiest way to tell your story. And one other trick is to not think of it as a story but as a moment in time when everything changed.

So you want to start with a time stamp when this moment occurred. Since stories are temporal, meaning they happen over some time, you want to start with a time stamp to alert the limbic brain in your audience that something is about to happen that it should pay attention to.

The thinking goes that since our limbic brain is primarily tasked with the survival of our being, and stories are an essential learning tool, it perks up to understand what it would need to do in case whatever is about to happen in your anecdote might happen to its host so that this survival center can protect the person.

Then I encourage you to share the location where this moment occurred. Use a couple of illustrative words to describe the scene to fire up the theater of the mind. This gets your audience leaning in as they picture and feel the environment in which your story takes place.

This helps you and your tale become more memorable as your audience viscerally participates in your story… as if it is happening to them.

Then you introduce a central character, not two people, not a team, a department, a division, or an entire organization. Nope. Just one protagonist that your audience can relate to.

You and your stories’ likability factor goes way up with a singular character in a singular narrative that your audience can live vicariously through.

When, where, and who are your first three story elements, which is essentially the AND statement, or ACT 1 of your ABT as you set the scene and introduce your central character and what they wish for and want.

Then you describe what happens in Act 2, which is essentially the plot twist of the BUT section of your ABT.

Again, use emotive words so that your audience easily comes along for the ride to determine what happens, because the best stories have a surprising outcome.

This leads to the “Aha Moment” that makes your business point for you.

Airbnb used all of these elements as the structure for its Wall & Chain story. And they did it in a minute and 16 seconds. When you craft your stories to accelerate your Business of Story Flywheel through the likability phase, remember to:

  • Determine when the moment occurred.
  • Describe where the moment happened.
  • Define your central character who experienced this moment of change.
  • Detail the events that happened in this moment and the surprising outcome.
  • And declare the Aha Moment that makes your business point for you, essentially the moral of your story.

Each real-world anecdote you share makes you more likable because as foremost American Social Psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, reminds us, “Our brains are story processors, not logic processors.”

If you’d like to hear his thoughts, Jonathan and I explored this idea on episode #183: How Your Stories Can Unite Divided People.

How to spot your stories in the wild and where to use them

So job #1 with the likability spoke of your Business of Story Flywheel is to start collecting stories from your past and present clients and customers and feature these tales in your story marketing content that fuels your storytelling flywheel.

The cool thing is that you can atomize the content from each story into numerous valuable content marketing fragments. For instance, one interview can be captured:

  • In a short video to share on your website, in social media, in sales presentations and even to build camaraderie internally with your people to demonstrate the bigtime impact you and they are making on your customers. Remember, your stories are not about what you make, but what you make happen for your colleagues, customers and the communities you serve.
  • You can use the audio from the video for your podcast, virtual meetings, and creative uses in social media combined with visuals.
  • You can use the written transcript in blog posts, Substack articles, whitepapers; and anywhere the written word is the preferred form of communication.
  • You can highlight pull quotes from your story where they can amplify the impact in any of your communication.
  • You can create imagery inspired by the story to bedazzle any of these tactics.
  • You can train your people on how to use the proven story structures of the ABT and the Five Primal Elements by modeling it in each of your stories.
  • Oh, and of course you use each story to trigger other stories that your people may not have thought of or have not yet shared. In doing so, you will be building a valuable and potent storytelling library and culture.

I think it’s important to make a point here. I’ve been writing copy for nearly 40 years. As a young copywriter in my early days, the goal for all ad agencies was to be as creative and award-winning as possible with their copy.

Storytelling often got tossed out the window in favor of the new big creative thing.

Well, I can tell, in this day of cacophonous communication, clever copy doesn’t really work.

People want and need to hear earnest stories about the impact you and your brand make in the world.

The absolute best, most efficient, attention-grabbing, revenue-generating communication effort you can make is telling a true story well.

That’s what ups your likability factor.

It’s worth repeating: “Your brand is the stories people tell about you when you’re not in the room.”

So you want to ensure they’re telling your story accurately and persuasively. The only way to make that happen is to become an influential storyteller using our frameworks and the Business of Story “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling Flywheel.


And now the compounding effect of becoming better known – the incorrigible Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman, would say even becoming famous as a brand, combined with your likability factor, builds the trust your customers need to become life-long buyers of and advocates for your product or service.

Now that you’re building trust, how do you encourage your customers to share your story with their world?

As I mentioned earlier, one way to do it is to use a platform like StoryPrompt to capture your customer testimonials so that you can easily share them on your website and in your story marketing.

For instance, here is a short clip of a variety of customer testimonials for the Business of Story using StoryPrompt.

I’m obviously sharing them with you right now to help build your trust in me as The World’s Most Industrious Storyteller helping leaders of purpose-driven brands and their people excel through the stories they tell.

I even use the “Know, Like & Trust” storytelling flywheel to prepare my guests for their appearance on my show.

When they fill out my Guest Wrap Sheet, I ask them what they are known for; their brand’s unique value proposition. Then I have them fill out their bio, social links, etc. so I can help them be better known by promoting their appearance on our show.

Then we up the likeability factor by asking them to share ONE problem that we will solve for our listeners in the episode.

Plus, I ask them to share a minimum of three stories that demonstrate – or show – their business point or point of view in action. This, of course, makes for a much better conversation and their likability goes way up.

Then they move into the Trust section when I ask them if they have a book or course they’d like to share to demonstrate their expertise.

I ask them to commit to sharing their appearance on the Business of Story through their social channels and email campaigns so that we both become better known, liked, and trusted.

Like all story structures, the “Know, Like & Trust” Storytelling Flywheel is meta: you can use it for epic storytelling strategy right down to individual tactics like our Guest Rap Sheet for the Business of Story podcast.

Our flywheel is an invaluable three-step storytelling strategy that will make your marketing much easier, faster, and more compelling. You’ll attract your prime prospects who lead to better buyers that convert into customers quicker.

It’s your job to build trust by keeping the promises you make in your stories, by providing a remarkable product or service, and by delivering incredible customer service.

Then your customers, colleagues and the communities you serve will happily share your story with their worlds helping you to become…you guessed it, even better known, even more liked and immensely trusted.

To become better known, listen to my interviews with…

Seth Godin #412: The Story Behind My New Book: The Song of Significance

Jim Stengle: #413: How to Build Brand Purpose and Profits With Your Business Storytelling

To use storytelling to become even more likable, listen to my conversations with…

Nancy Harhunt #395: How to Use Storytelling to Hack Human Behavior

Dan Heath #442: Why the Best Storytellers are Slow and Curious

Bernadette Jiwa: #408 How to use the Power of Your Everyday Stories

Story on!